Are You Under-fueling?! – Eating too little can have short-term and long-term consequences for your body and your workouts.
Question: What do the active women in each of these scenarios have in common?
Scenario 1# – Katie went out for dinner with friends. She ate a large plate of pasta, as well as a few glasses of wine, appetisers, a salad and dessert. She let go more than she usually does, so the next morning, she skipped breakfast before her workout so she wouldn’t gain weight from last night’s splurge.
Scenario 2# – Jennifer has a high-intensity training session planned for this evening, but she doesn’t want to feel bloated when she changes into her workout gear. She decides to skip lunch and just grab dinner on the way home from the gym. In the meantime, she tides herself over with a cheese stick and water.
Scenario 3# – Lisa’s friend told her that active women need to eat mostly protein, so Lisa stopped eating grains, fruits and vegetables so she could build more muscle. She relies on protein shakes, chicken breasts and eggs to get her through the day. She doesn’t like her diet, but she believes she’s doing the right thing to create the body she wants.
Answer: Katie, Jennifer and Lisa are suffering from a condition referred to as under-fueling, which means either not eating enough or not eating the right type of foods. What’s more, they’re not getting the results they desire.
Yet scenarios like this play out every day as women try to navigate the mixed messaging about training, eating and performing. You hear the message everywhere: more than two thirds of the British population are overweight or obese. Consequently, you’re hit over the head with the idea that weight loss is your one-way ticket to better health.
While it’s true that weight loss can counteract many of the chronic diseases that affect society, the weight loss mania spills over into areas – like nutrition for active women – where it doesn’t belong! It can be easy to fall victim to the false idea that cutting calories is the only way an active women can reach her fitness goals.
Part of the reason an active women may think under-fueling is a good choice is that it’s been hard to separate apart the world of women’s fitness nutrition and the world of dieting. The message from the world of dieting is not based on the needs of a female athlete, and they promote under-fueling, fasting and under-carbing, with little to no research. The first place you may notice a symptom of under-fueling is at the gym; where you will suffer from fatigue and low training intensity. Though you may think you’re on the path to building muscle by increasing your training and decreasing your food consumption, you might experience a softening of your physique. Under-fueling can cause a loss of muscle mass while increasing body fat. Other physical signs of under-fueling include hair loss, bad skin, brain fog or memory loss, intestinal disturbances, anxiety and poor sleep quality. Feeling fatigued, lethargic, sore and weak can be common signs of not fueling properly.
#Longer-Term Health Impact
If the short –term repercussions of not feeding your active body enough food aren’t enough of a wake-up call, consider this: A weakened immune system, bone fractures and loss of thyroid function are among the serious complications that can result chronic under-fueling. What’s even worse, it can have the exact opposite effect than you thought it would, not meeting your nutritional needs and creating vitamin deficiencies makes it more difficult for you to lose weight in the future.
Disordered eating, whether it’s an intentional or non-intentional under consumption of calories, can occur because of poor eating habits and because of the failure to increase food intake to match the intensity of exercise. When your body perceives too great of a gap between calorie expenditure and calorie intake, your oestrogen levels drop and menstrual periods become irregular or cease altogether. Normal oestrogen levels are needed to main the calcium content of your bones; the result of lowered oestrogen is that bones become progressively more porous, which leads to osteopenia (reduced bone mass) and eventually to osteoporosis (brittle bones).
#Fueling Without Getting Fat
Is a common worry among my female clients who under-fuel, they believe they will gain weight if they start to eat more. Truth is; the key to keeping up your metabolism and energy levels while maintaining a healthy weight and toned physique takes eating and training strategies.
High-intensity training requires fuel from carbohydrates, despite the current fashion for carb-restricted diets. Even though you may perceive that you’re training at high intensity when you haven’t eaten carbs, you won’t be, your output will be low. You can train at low intensities on fat stores for hours, but it takes carbohydrates to raise your intensity up to 70 percent or greater of your maximum work capacity. You can start to see how under-fueling doesn’t bring forth the toned body some think it will because it takes energy to achieve the intensity levels required for maximum performance and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). If you want to do HIIT training at an appropriate level that leads to improving body composition, you simply must have carbohydrates in your system.
#Type of Food & Timing
Both the types and timing of foods you eat matters when it comes to intense training. Diets too low in calories lead to a drop in metabolic rate, meaning you’d have to work out more to burn the same amount of calories as before. Fueling around exercise is very important, if you don’t fuel before training and recover with a combination of protein and carbohydrates after, you’ll be wiped out later in the day and typically, your appetite will be out of control. For low-or moderate intensity workout, I recommend fueling with whole foods. For higher intensities, I suggest fast-digesting carbohydrates before your workout and then more of the fast –digesting carbs plus whey protein after your workout.
When not training, build a diet based on nutrient-dense choices by eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grain, lean proteins, nuts and diary. In the 90 min to 2 hours before training, shift your focus to getting a source of fast-digesting carbohydrates, such as a banana,if running or playing high impact sport game or more complex carbs like sweet potatoe or brown rice with some lean protein. Within the 30 after training, get a mix of simple carbs and protein, such as sports drink with some bcaa or dextrose with whey protein or pineapple with a protein shake. Training goals and workout intensities are so individualised, consider a nutrition plan from Evolve, I can help tailor a fueling plan to your needs.
#5 Tips to Focus on Fueling
Employ these tips to start getting the most out of meals and your workouts. If you’ve been under-fueling, eating more of the right foods at the right time can help you achieve the intensities and results you have been missing.
1# – Trust your appetite: Too often, health –conscious eaters are accustomed to ignoring their hunger. Under the right conditions, your body’s own hunger signals (thirst, grumbling tummy, and salivating mouth) are your best tools for learning when to fuel. Find something to eat when you get that first signal of hunger instead of waiting until your appetite reaches an uncontrollable level.
2# – Read your body’s feedback: your body has ways of telling you what it needs. If the feedback you’re getting after workouts is chronic fatigue, soreness, anxiety, lack of sleep, hair loss, bad skin, GI distress or memory loss, consider changing the types and amounts of food you’re getting – you probably need more, not less.
3# – Don’t skip meals: It becomes hard to fit in enough calories when you skip meals, let alone skipping snacks. If you work out in the morning, eat fast-digesting carbs before your session and a combination of carbohydrates and protein after your workout. If you train in the afternoon or evening, eat a fast-digesting carb source in the hour before your workout.
4# – Eat more carbs: if you’ve been relying on a low-carbohydrate diet or using protein to fuel your workouts, see how you feel when you add some carbs back in to your diet and don’t under-fuel.
5# – Eat more Natural Food: For low to medium-intensity workouts, fuel up by getting your calories from whole-grains food, fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean protein. You may need to eat these foods in larger volumes than you have before. For high-intensity workouts, it may be necessary to add fast-digesting and whey protein to help meet your increased fueling needs.
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